A Walk to Murton and Hilton

A couple of blogs ago, I described our walk from Appleby to Flakebridge wood. This walk is a continuation of that, and the two could easily be combined. The two rambles together give a hint of the pastoral walks which may be undertaken in Cumbria’s Eden valley.

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The Church (c) John Bainbridge 2017

We walked out from Appleby, back along Well House Road to the footpath leading past Shepherd’s Cottage, as described in the last walk.

An interesting path too, with grand views up to the north Pennines and back across the Eden to the Shap Fells and the distant mountains of the Lake District – Blencathra looking dramatic with a snowy cap, even from this far away.

The path itself was quite a delight, running alongside a little gorge through which speeds the Murton Beck. In Murton village there are some wonderful ancient buildings. Its picturesque church – being Sunday – was full of worshippers so we couldn’t go in this time. It’s worth a visit though, for there’s a fine triple-deck pulpit.

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Pastoral Uplands (c) John Bainbridge 2017

The church stands midway between Murton and its neighbour village of Hilton, both dominated by the great hill of Murton Pike (see blogs passim).

Much of the moorland beyond is mostly out of bounds thanks to the Warcop military training ranges. In theory you can access the ranges once a week, though the walker is given little encouragement to do so.

The gate obstructing a public right of way was firmly padlocked. I do wonder if it’s unlocked even on non-firing days? The red warning flags seem to fly permanently. Last Sunday there wasn’t the slightest evidence that the ranges were even in use.

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Murton (c) John Bainbridge 2017

If the army aren’t using the ranges on a particular day couldn’t the flags be taken down so that walkers and riders might use the paths?

The Ministry of Defence wants to seize more of the north Pennines. Perhaps they should concentrate more on working with the public regarding access on the bits they already have?

We walked down to the little hamlet of Brackenber and then out on to Brackenber Moor – all CroW access land now, though you wouldn’t know it from the restrictive sign on the Brackenber gate.

Brackenber Moor, despite its golf course, remains a haunt for curlews and other moorland birds. We walked around it to Langdon Farm, a steading, the present building of which dates back to 1785, before walking back down the lane into Appleby.

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The padlocked right of way (c) John Bainbridge 2017

These fellside villages of the former county of Westmorland are well worth exploring and there are a great many public footpaths. The area is often quieter than the neighbouring Lake District. There are long miles of lonely moorland and a pastoral country and villages of quite some charm.


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The Brackenber Gate (c) John Bainbridge 2017


My Scottish Novel On Sale

BALMORAL KILL ON KINDLE – ONLY 99 PENCE/CENTS THIS WEEK – and you don’t need a Kindle. Just download the free app for your laptop, tablet or phone via the link at the foot of this blog.

Balmoral Kill is also out in paperback if you are looking for a Christmas stocking filler or just for a book to read over the Christmas holiday.

As a hillwalker who also writes novels, I always like to root my plots and characters in a real landscape whenever that is possible. I might alter it, fictionalise it, or just change the odd feature – but I like to start with a reality. And at some point in my fiction I like to use an actual place I know, walk around it and imagine my characters playing out their adventures upon it.


I always knew, right from the beginning, that my Victorian thriller The Shadow of William Quest would come to a dramatic conclusion on Holkham Beach in Norfolk. And I knew that the final duel between my hero and villain in Balmoral Kill would have to be in some remote spot in the Cairngorms, though within easy reach of the royal residence of Balmoral Castle.

But I wasn’t sure where.

In all my Scottish stravaiging I had never been to Loch Muick (pronounced without the u), though I had read about it in my numerous Scottish books and looked at it on the map. It seemed an ideal location for the conclusion of a thriller.Balmoral Castle (c) 2015 John Bainbridge

So the summer when I was writing the book, when we were staying in Ballater, we walked up to take a look, circling the loch and examining the wild mountains and tumbling rivers round about. Plotting a gunfight (even a fictional one) takes some care. I wanted it to be as probable and realistic as possible. This is, after all, a book about experienced assassins. I wanted the line of sight of every rifle to be exact.

We also had to check out the hills around. Both my hero and villain are great walkers and “walk-in” to places where they expect to see some action

And a beautiful wild place Loch Muick is. It was a favourite picnicking place of Queen Victoria, who used to linger for days on end at the lonely house of Glas-Allt-Shiel, in mourning for her beloved Prince Albert. Today’s royal family picnic there even now. The house is as I describe it in the book, as is the surrounding scenery. Believe me, I checked out those sightlines. Every shot described in the book could be taken in reality. Even now when I think of that loch and the Corrie Chash above it, I think of my characters being there. Sometimes they are all very real to me.Glas-Allt-Shiel House (c) John Bainbridge 2015

We also revisited Balmoral Castle (actually they only let you into the ballroom!), strolled through its grounds and examined the countryside round about. I was able to work out the exact routes taken by all of the characters who found themselves on the shores of Loch Muick on a late summer day in 1937.

Other areas of Scotland feature in the book too. I partly fictionalised the places I used in the Scottish Borders, though those scenes are based on the many walks I’ve done around Peebles, the Broughton Heights and Manorwater. In one flashback scene in the Highlands I have a character journey from Taynuilt and out on to the mighty twin peaks of Ben Cruachan, and then into the glens beyond, to kill a man in Glen Noe. Some years ago I did a lot of walking in that area and had considerable pleasure in reliving my journeys as I penned those scenes.Loch Muick looking up towards where Balmoral Kill comes to its conclusion. (c) John Bainbridge 2015

The book begins in London and journeys into the East End. I’ve walked the streets and alleys of Whitechapel, Stepney and Limehouse by day and night over the years. Balmoral Kill is set in 1937, so there has been a great deal of change in nearly eighty years. The East End was very badly bombed in the War and thoughtless planners have destroyed a lot more. But enough remains to give you the picture. Once more, I could take you in the steps of my characters through every inch of the places mentioned.

Very often going to these locations inspires changes to the writing. Balmoral Kill was half-written by the time we explored Loch Muick. The real-life topography of the place inspired me to make several changes to the novel’s conclusion.

And now I’m writing an historical novel set in the 1190s. The landscape where it is set has changed very considerably in the centuries since. So more imagination is needed, though I still try to root my scenes in reality.

As a walker as well as a writer I find going on research trips is the best way to conjure up locations with the written word.

It’s out in paperback as well as in eBook on Kindle. 

Click on the link below to read Balmoral Kill.


Fight for Countryside Access

This from the Ramblers Association. Do click the link for more information and to download the FREE access guide.

Seventeen years ago today, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act was passed, giving rights of open access to more than a million hectares of countryside.

Open access land gives you the chance to step off the path and walk freely,explore wild, open landscapes and find your own way. But do you know how to identify areas of open access? Do you know where you can and can’t walk once you’ve found it? Do you know what rights and responsibilities you have once you step off the path?

We know that some people don’t feel confident in where they can and can’t walk, and in knowing their rights and responsibilities while out walking. To help, we’ve produced a free guide to open access, giving you everything you need to be able to head out and confidently explore the countryside.

Read our access guide here ►
We hope that you find the guide useful and that it helps you to get out there and explore open access land. Not sure where to start? We’ve put together a list of our favourite places to roam free.

If your favourite place doesn’t feature on our list, please get in touch to let us know!

Kind Regards,

Oliver and Laura,
The Ramblers campaigns team

Ps. Our petition to improve access to woodland has now passed 8,000 signatures. We still want to reach even more people, so do share it with your friends and family and encourage them to get involved: www.ramblers.org.uk/Forest.

A Walk from Appleby

After a freezing few days, last Sunday was much milder. We walked from Appleby – which had flooded again earlier in the week, though not as badly as after Storm Desmond – to follow footpaths up to Flakebridge Wood.

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In Flakebridge Wood (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Up past the railway station, a gem of a place on the Settle to Carlisle line, that seems unchanged from the 1940s. The road beyond leads up to the continuation of the Roman road that once led from Brough across the Pennines via the Stainmore Gap. Now it is a modern lane and parts of it have vanished under the A66.

We walked under the noisy underpass and then out along the footpath along Stank Lane, which, despite the name, didn’t…

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Stank Lane (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Interesting this name – Stank Lane… What does it mean? Stank is, of course, the past tense of stink. But Stank can also mean in dialect a small dam or a weir, and I wonder if that’s the derivation. Not that there is obviously one of those anywhere by it… or is there?

Stank Lane is a very pleasant green lane, offering terrific views up towards High Cup Nick and Murton Pike. To its west, close to Hungriggs Farm is a reedy stretch of water  called Molesby Tarn. Is the origin of the Stank there?

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A Good Clear Path (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Anyway, the paths on this walk are in excellent condition as it winds down and across to Stank Wood – all kept beautifully clear, well waymarked and the line good and clear where the path crosses an open field.

Stank Wood is a thin but longish stretch of woodland, which I would imagine was originally planned as a covert for game. Beyond the way follows the valley of the Frith Beck, around Black Hill and to Flakebridge Wood, one of the largest stretches of woodland in the Eden valley.

Flakebridge is mixed woodland and heavily preserved for pheasant shooting. There is no public access to much of the wood, apart from two footpaths that cross through and one longer right of way that winds along its southern edge.

With the Ramblers new campaign to restore public access to woodland and the resurrection of the Charter of the Forest, this is the sort of place which should be looked at for increased walking access.

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A Field near Stank Wood (c) John Bainbridge 2017

We followed this to the lane junction near Shepherd’s Cottage and then followed Well House Road – in point of fact a very quiet lane – back to Appleby. Well House now stands just yards from the noisy A66, though the well – disused – may be seen on the opposite side of the lane.

Appleby is itself an interesting place in its great bend of the River Eden. The Romans who marched by seemingly ignored the site and the town was a creation of Viking settlers.

It doesn’t feature in the Domesday Book for the simple reason that this area was part of Scotland, not England, at the time. The Scots have returned several times since, attacking the town and laying siege to the castle. In the 17th century it was the home of Lady Anne Clifford, who gossipy diaries are well worth a read.

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Valley of the Frith Beck (c) John Bainbridge 2017

It was, of course, the County Town of Westmorland, before that county was absorbed into Cumbria. The locals hated the thought and formally changed the town’s name to Appleby-in-Westmorland. Every June it is the venue of the Gypsy Horse Fair, which brings thousands of travellers into the valley.

A short walk this one, just a few miles – but if you’ve a morning to spare I recommend it.

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Appleby Gypsy Horse Fair (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Dartmoor – On or In?

Dartmoor – In or On? 

Dartmoor – I spent much of my formative years on Dartmoor, exploring its summits, high tors and lonely combes.

On Dartmoor…

Note that!

You are never in Dartmoor, in the way you may be in the Lake District or the Yorkshire Dales. You are always on Dartmoor. The only people who are in Dartmoor are prisoners serving time at Princetown.

And the criminal underworld only ever refers to the prison as The Moor.

So if you are on Dartmoor this weekend, I hope you are having a grand time. If you are in Dartmoor, you are probably not going to have a very good time at all.

A Walk to Black Dub and the Oddendale Stone Circle

A walk to where Charles II rested on his way to defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, the course of a Roman road, a prehistoric stone circle and a very old and well used track. There’s a lot to see on this short walk from Crosby Ravensworth – and we picked a beautiful if freezing day for our ramble.

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Black Dub (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Despite being in the vicinity of the Coast to Coast Path this remote area is much quieter than the nearby Lake District. We hardly saw another walker all day. But there are excellent and far reaching views, both towards the Lake District mountains and over the Eden Valley to the Pennines.

It’s really a continuation of the walk we did from Crosby Ravensworth a couple of weeks ago to see the Harberwain stone circles. The enterprising rambler could incorporate the two.

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On the Fell Track (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Leaving the village, we set up through Slack Randy (and I’d still love to know why it’s called that) on to Crosby Ravensworth Fell. It was biting cold, but the coolness of the air gave us the far-reaching views and made for good crisp moorland walking.

We soon struck the headwaters of a little beck which eventually becomes the River Lyvennet. Not far from its source is the monument to the 1651 visit of Charles II and his troops. We hadn’t been here for a few years and the inscription on the monument – put here in Victorian times by the sculptor Thomas Bland of Reagill – has much faded. However, the inscription reads:

Here, at Black Dub, the source of the Lyvennet, Charles II regaled his army on their march from Scotland August 8th, A.D. 1651.

Black Dub is now so quiet and remote it’s hard to imagine a crowd of people here at all, let alone a martial gathering. They were, of course, defeated at the Battle of Worcester. Some of them might have fled back this same way.

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Oddendale Stone Circle (c) John Bainbridge 2017

We took a circuitous route up around Coalpit Hill, across which runs the Roman road known as Wicker Street. This route, much of which is now hard to follow, ran from near Manchester to Brough. In its way it is as lonely as the more famous High Street, though you have to use your imagination quite a bit to picture the legions marching this way.

Nor far from the hamlet of Oddendale, is a stone circle, though its impressiveness is reduced by the lank and clinging yellow moor grass. It dates to around 2,500 BC and was probably part of the collection of connected monuments between here and Shap. Excavations have shown evidence of two concentric circles of wooden posts, an early Bronze Age ring cairn and a stone outer circles.

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Oddendale (c) John Bainbridge 2017

It’s good that it has survived, because many of the Shap monuments haven’t – a pity, because together it would have been one of the most impressive prehistoric sites in Britain, but the Oddendale circle gives a feeling of what there once was.

Oddendale itself is a hamlet lost in time. We followed the bridleway leading from it back to Crosby Ravensworth.

Now this is a track, still well-used today, where you are treading in the footsteps of centuries of wanderers. At one point the path has worn down into a deep and grassy hollow, lined with great boulders – another reason why we should defend the original lines of our pathways.

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On the old track (c) John Bainbridge 2017

And it makes for a very easy and pleasant return to Crosby Ravensworth, with superb views across a landscape which has been farmed for thousands of years.


Edward Thomas – A Miscellany

Edward Thomas – A Miscellany, selected by Anna Stenning, is a splendid new anthology of some of the prose and poetry of the well-known country writer who died tragically young – just over a century ago – at the Battle of Arras in the First World War.

This handsome edition in the Rucksack Editions series by Galileo Publishers has been specially produced in a small but readable format with a tough chunky cover so that it might be packed in a knapsack and read on walks – though I’ve been dipping into it as a bedside book.

Readers of past blogs will know that I’m a great enthusiast for the works of Edward Thomas. Not just because he was a country walker of some repute, but also because he captured the British countryside at such a crucial moment in time – when rural England was going through a fundamental change, when the population had become mostly urban, and there was a great cultural desire to records many aspects of the rural way of life.

Lovers of Thomas’s work will find some old favourites in this volume, but a lot of material that isn’t quite so familiar – arranged in chapters with inviting titles, such as Footpaths and Roads, The Historic Landscape, The Journey, Inns and Sleep, Folk Traditions etc.

If you don’t know Thomas’s work this is an admirable introduction, featuring a good spread of his poetry as well as some excellent excerpts of his prose work. Long-standing admirers, such as myself, enjoyed discovering old favourites and it was pleasing to be reminded of works that had slipped out of my memory.

There’s a very good introduction by Dr Stenning, with a brief biography of Edward Thomas.

Compiling an anthology isn’t as easy as you might imagine. I’m currently doing one myself, and have found that out.

This really is a work to go out and buy and to be dipped into.

Recommended, available from online sites and good bookshops.

Rucksack Editions have companion editions to this featuring work by John Muir and Dorothy and William Wordsworth.